Developers will be dancing with delight after Wrecsam's planning committee agreed by the narrowest of margins to allow more housing on a green space to fund the Brymbo spine road.
The development was rejected three years by the same planning committee (albeit with a different membership) and that decision was backed on appeal by the Planning Inspectors. Despite this, Brymbo Developments Ltd, which was given the old Brymbo steelworks site more than 16 years ago for redevelopment, came back with the same old plea: "We can't afford to build the spine road".
The spine road would link the villages of Tanyfron and Brymbo via their new 650-house housing estate. It was essential for the rejuvenation of the area, which BDL said would involve building 300 homes, shops and creating 1,000 jobs through light industrial units.
Remarkably, BDL neglected to provide the funding for such a fundamental part of their masterplan, even though their directors siphoned off millions in dividends over the years.
Planning officers pushed hard tonight for this enabling development, despite acknowledging it was contrary to policy. They also had to accept arguments from Sam Evans for Tanyfron Residents that the Planning Inspectors had said the previous application was an inappropriate urban encroachment.
It was, they kept reiterating, the only way to ensure the spine road was built. Councillors were sceptical that the company would deliver given past promises and an amendment saying that the entire road should be built before any housing commenced was almost passed. It fell by just one vote, 9-8. The fact that one sceptical councillor had been persuaded to declare an interest and leave the meeting merits further investigation.
Councillors who remained eventually voted for the housing (BDL says it'll just be 70 homes when in the last application it was for 150 on the same plot of land) on the basis that the company will have to take out a bond. If the road is not completed within 12 months then the bond will be invoked and the work finished for them.
BDL-watchers are rather less trusting of this company, especially given its associated companies' recent history of going bust.
The link between these companies is Midlands millionaire Colin Cornes, who is still listed as a director of BDL. He's on the Sunday Times Rich List and reputed to have a personal fortune of £90 million.
Building extra housing and a new supermarket on the site was a necessity to pay for the spine road, suggesting a company in difficulties. This is surprising given the money it has already made on selling land for 650 homes on the site.
Given their suspicions, planning committee members could have asked whether the bond would be worth anything if BDL went bust.
Councillors were cajoled and eventually threatened that they could lose a costly appeal (precisely the same threat that was levelled three years ago!) and voted yes. It remains to be seen whether the spine road is now built within 12 months as promised by the council's solicitor.
It also remains to be seen whether approving such a development against fundamental principles will open the floodgates to other developers. Not only does the development allow BDL off the hook in terms of providing any affordable housing or funding a new school (which is needed given all the extra housing built on site), but it sets a dangerous precedent that will have long-lasting consequences.